Register Sunday | June 16 | 2019

The Music We Hate: Destroyer

<p>"Destroyer makes me care to hate because Daniel Bejar personifies so well the haters among us."</p>

This is an online supplement to Maisonneuve's print-only "The Music We Hate" feature (Issue 36, Summer 2010). To read Carl Wilson on Radiohead, Sean Michaels on Sufjan Stevens and more, buy the print edition in stores or contact us to order it.

My friend Georgie, who was always smarter than me, told me that Julia, the girl he was in love with, but who had a girlfriend, said a genius thing. She said the only tattoo she would ever get would be of a still pool, and since that was impossible to render she would never get a tattoo. And he told me this because it meant to him that art was ultimately futile—and he was so touched with the purity of his crush, he felt this as a clear and beautiful truth at that moment.

We were smoking cigarettes in the mud, in the rain, along the Joyce logging road north of Ear Falls, Ontario. It was 2002. I didn't really like Julia because she always took the front seat of the van, and I said I did not agree. I said an artist is someone who can render the still pool.

This was an odd thing for me to say. No one believes that. Odder still was how Georgie had no rebuttal. We just smoked our cigarettes, like people used to do. I had said something very smart, or very dumb. I had answered a beautifully pessimistic statement with a beautifully optimistic one. Georgie had the word “God” written in both Arabic and Hebrew on his forearms and a workhorse tattooed across his heart. He had only recently stopped wearing his homemade "Music Saves" t-shirt. He was a serious man, and so was I.

It has taken me these eight years to believe my statement again—sorta. I can believe it long enough to sustain the argument that, in music, the possibility of rendering the still pool is very real. There are those who fight the opposite fight—people who see futility first, who see authenticity as a mirage, who see a seemingly authentic expression as a persona like any other. I disagree. You can hear authentic intention in a voice, even through affectation—or else you can think you do. Then you're winning.

It doesn't really matter. The smartest thing I can presently recall hearing about music was that a song moves, and it is what it is, and if you don't get it, it's too bad for you. The guy meant that there's potential for connection in it, whatever it is, and if you can't connect it's your loss. Some music makes you feel how you want to feel and some doesn't, and it changes all the time. It doesn't matter whether it's authentic or not. What matters is whether it reflects what you want to see.

It is hard to say you hate a kind of music and take yourself seriously for too long. In fact, I mistrust strong opinion outright. But fuck it. I hate Destroyer.

For the longest time the only record I heard by Destroyer was the dumpy, fuck-you-listener album Your Blues. I remember feeling so disappointed in people. They loved it. It was so bad, so lacking. 

It was also a thesis statement. Your Blues—you the inheritor of European culture, your "European blues," this is how dirty, and self-hating, and soulless, and synthetic, and sarcastic, and jaded, and lethargic, and lame, and inauthentic Your Blues are. Your blues don't feel good, and you already knew that. And Radiohead had been telling you about it for ten years and so had your first-year philosophy professor, Max Fritsch. And—here's the thing—Radiohead had been giving it to you in a medium that transcended its pessimistic message. It was Oxford-smart and cynical, but it whirled in melody and groove. The message didn't come at the expense of the music.

Destroyer's main failure is musical. This is not at all what I thought when all I had heard was Your Blues. I thought Daniel Bejar was the BP oil rig of music. And I was wrong. 

But the music still sucks. And I feel a strong urge to back that up with reference to specifics, out of duty to the reader. But taste is a silly thing to argue. Isn't it? A difference in tastes is not enough to hate on. It's only enough to make you not want to listen.

Here is my problem. Destroyer makes me care to hate because Daniel Bejar personifies so well the haters among us. Those who do not believe that music, or anything, can still be virgin. That it can't feel the way it did for Sam Cooke; that it must be savvy. That it must know what came before it; that it must know anything at all. I'd like to believe it doesn't need to know anything, that the less it knows the better. 

But I don't believe that. Yet, I can't help but feel it, defensively, when I listen to Destroyer. And it's unfortunate for me, because if that's the case we can't ever really get music as right as it once was. It's an unhappy way of looking at things. Ultimately Destroyer makes me unhappy. If the content of a song is so unholy, so disposable as it sounds when Daniel Bejar is irreverently tinkering with it, then it cannot render the still pool. It doesn't make me feel what I want to feel, doesn't reflect what I want to see.

And it's too bad for me, because Destroyer is actually fucking awesome.

Once I got over myself, over my tastes, over my purity principle, after two weeks of hard listening, everything about Daniel Bejar—his flaws, his intelligence, his originality, his annoying phrasing, his self-reference, his indulgence, his blend of genuinely beautiful phrases with dumb lyrics, his pastiche, even his famously stupid voice—it all came into a clear, complex and beautiful picture. He has been what he is for fifteen years, and what he is comes directly against what actually sucks in the world. And I began to believe him.

James Irwin sings and plays guitar in the band My People Sleeping. He is working on a book of poems, and a book of stories.

Related on maisonneuve.org:

 

—The Music We Hate: Daniel Johnston
—The Music We Hate: Belle and Sebastian
—The Music We Hate: Timber Timbre

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